MoJo the Mighty
by Edna C. Horning
MoJo’s vaccination certificate described him as a “common domestic shorthair,” but MoJo and Neva both would have roundly disputed the designation. He was no common kitty.
When Neva took MoJo to fourth grade Show and Tell, she held him aloft and declared him the world’s smartest feline, a bold claim that incurred the wrath of a counterclaimant willing to go toe-to-toe about the matter during afternoon recess. The playground monitor, a notorious spoilsport, stifled the fray before it went much of anywhere, and Neva sagely decided to exercise her bragging rights for more appreciative ears in future.
Cats are reputed to hate water, a wives’ tale, no doubt, and one Neva did not believe for a second. On Saturdays with good weather, she stashed MoJo in her bicycle basket and pedaled to a nearby pond where he not only swam like a fish, he frequently caught one. He could descend the highest tree head first, supposedly impossible for cats; there was no hook and ladder rescue in his history.
He was mad for candy, even though cats have no taste buds for sweetness. He snubbed the hand-painted porcelain bowl provided for his convenience and insisted instead on being watered directly from the faucet by lying in the sink, thereby blocking its use till someone complied.
He could detect a cat hater at midnight in a sandstorm and would proceed to slather on the sarcasm with prolonged mewing, flirting and teasing while rubbing against the offender’s legs and exhibiting his finest touch-me-and-you-die glare.
His only real friend and equal in the vicinity was Cannonball, the six-toed, twenty-pound American Bobtail who had taught himself to skateboard and had been recorded on home security videos chasing off coyotes. Area dogs kept a respectful distance from both.
Dinner was either a cheaper brand he was served the majority of days or a preferred, costlier item he got when it was on sale. When the evening’s fare was the former, MoJo would belatedly stroll into the kitchen, owning the place while looking bored and vexed and scornful before finally eating. But when his favorite was up, it mattered not if he had been at a distance sunning himself on the deck or snoring in a closet; some mysterious, subliminal spark lit his fire, and he materialized almost before the fact.
When a neighbor’s tabby went into heat, MoJo slid down their chimney slicker than Santa’s elf, resulting in an annoyed call from the homeowner at 2:00 a.m. “Scared the bejesus out of us. We thought he was a burglar and were just moments short of calling the cops. Can’t you have him fixed or at least keep him indoors?”
“Lecherous little bastard,” Neva’s father mumbled upon hanging up the phone.
Yes, truth to tell, MoJo’s family did not confine him overmuch, and occasionally he demonstrated his innate prowess and self-sufficiency by bringing home the odd squirrel or jackrabbit he bagged during these free-range adventures.
Eventually Neva, princess royal of the household, passionate ailurophile, budding honor student, and future author and geobiologist, sat him down for a talk.
“MoJo,” she began, “those wonderful people at National Geographic tell us that domestic and feral cats have snuffed out thirty-three species. I don’t doubt what they say, but I expect better from you. Your genome is ninety-five percent identical to tigers, and you have twice the number of neurons in your cerebral cortex as dogs. So you have nothing to prove, and I don’t want to find any more creatures minus their heads laid out on the porch. Deal?”
This prompted Mason, professional educator, devoted husband and father, arch-skeptic, and intransigent mechanist-materialist, to swivel his chair towards his daughter. “You honestly think he understands, don’t you.”
“He might,” Neva replied a bit hesitantly, familiar as she was with her father’s perspective.
Here, Elise, former homecoming queen, devoted wife and mother, substitute teacher, and up-and-coming artist, interceded on her daughter’s behalf: “He just might. Lately he’s taken to flushing the toilet repeatedly while he sits on the tank and watches the water go around and around. Putting the lid down wasn’t enough because evidently he enjoys the sound, as well, and I have to keep the door closed to avoid a five-hundred dollar bill. Any day he’ll be re-tiling the patio and filling out our tax forms.”
“And reading our palms, no doubt, because — don’t tell me, let me guess — in addition to his other jaw-dropping talents, he’s, uh, whaddayacallit? Psychic.”
“He could be,” Neva posed, figuring it was her turn at bat. “The ancients believed cats had supernatural powers, and maybe they were right. There is such a thing as animal ESP. It’s been observed and recorded the world over. I’ve been reading about it.”
Mason mumbled something unintelligible and then redirected his attention to the computer.
Neva breathed a sigh of relief and returned to Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe without pursuing the matter further. For a tense moment she had feared being the catalyst of a parental tiff, an admittedly rare event. Hers was a happy house, and she rested in the knowledge that her father and mother shared the same page regarding most essentials: money, vacation venues, what color drapes, that sort of thing.
Nonetheless, she was coming to grasp that their single serious disengagement concerned the cosmos. Her father had graduated magna in biology with a double minor in math and philosophy and, during his junior year, had written his parents a long letter explaining that he was now an existentialist. Thenceforth he wholly subscribed to the views of Sartre, Heidegger, Monod, Dawkins, Dennett and a host of other grim depressives who maintain we can never be more than self-contained biological systems doomed as orphans and strangers in a vast, indifferent universe deaf to our pleadings. All else was poppycock.
Her mother was of a different mindset and, though Elise would never have forced it on anyone, Neva included, it was occasionally a topic of conversation during long rides in the country, a favorite mother-daughter activity.
“Daddy advocates rationality above all else because he thinks belief and emotion lead lesser minds astray and are not to be trusted. I take it he has expressed as much to you.”
“Well, once, when he didn’t realize I was listening, I heard him say that we are just protoplasmic blind alleys and that life itself is one big accident that arose totally by chance. It has no value or meaning in itself. Isn’t that sort of gloomy?”
“Downright despairing. No two ways about it.”
“Is that what you think?”
“So. What do you think?”
Silence prevailed for a few moments before Elise responded. “I say life does have intrinsic value and meaning. And purpose, too.”
“What does ‘intrinsic’ mean?”
“It means something that has existed from the very beginning and was not added later. In my opinion, Daddy is going down a wrong road, but he may eventually find the right one. Remember the fable I used to read you about the tiny mouse chewing through the captive lion’s ropes? It was one of your favorites.”
“Sure. ‘Little friends can prove great friends.’ That was the moral printed at the bottom of the page.”
“Exactly. It’s a fact that tiny events, tiny little events, have upended greatly entrenched assumptions. Sometimes we’re privileged to witness it for ourselves but, for that to happen, we must be observant and receptive, not just to the showy, mind-boggling ones but also the quieter, everyday happenings. We must remain alert,” she concluded, “if we’re serious about finding the right road.”
* * *
In the early spring, Mason’s mother died and bequeathed to him the homestead in Ohio where he had been reared. Mason’s father, years older than his wife, was already deceased, and now his wife’s body lay beside his in the family plot.
Though Mason had not articulated it in so many spoken words, Elise intuited what was roiling in her husband’s head from the moment his mother was lowered into the ground. He wanted to go back, and Elise was not necessarily against the idea. She also hailed from the greener east. She also had had her fill of desert.
So Mason submitted his resignation as assistant principal of Red Rock High School, Albuquerque, New Mexico not long after the funeral, and preparations to relocate commenced.
Neva’s enthusiasm took both parents by surprise. They had been prepared for angry opposition, but when none came, they opted not to disturb tranquil waters with unnecessary curiosity. She began researching the state’s history and geography and before long could rattle off the names of counties and county seats with gusto. She was especially intrigued by Lake Erie and explained to MoJo how much more exciting he would find it than the pond.
Four months later, duly preceded by tearful goodbyes to friends and neighbors and solemn promises to keep in touch, the day of departure arrived. Under Elise’s eagle watch, there had not been a single instance of breakage or spillage as the movers had packed, loaded and trucked away her prized paintings, sculptures and hand-restored antiques the previous day. The adults were to drive the two cars, with Neva alternating as passenger.
The last — very last — task on the agenda was to box up MoJo. This assassin of helpless fauna, this deflowerer of winsome pussies, this catamount wannabe who feared neither man nor beast was, low be it spoken, scared stupid of cars or, precisely, riding in them, and had been since kittenhood. It was his checkmate, his Canossa, his Waterloo.
Neva speculated that it was due to associating automobiles with being transported to veterinarian appointments, and to cope she had developed a protocol whereby she stroked his underside with gentle, unhurried, mesmerizing caresses that rendered him semi-comatose, complete with eyes rolled back in his head, until she could stow him in the caddy before he deduced her evil intent. And for all his smarts, he never caught on in time. Gotcha.
Their ambition was to cover five hundred miles by evening, but a later start persuaded them to stop in Amarillo, two hundred miles short of the goal. During rest stops, it was Neva’s responsibility to take her pet for walks. His harness would have been better suited, but it had inadvertently gone with the movers, leaving but a thin collar to which a leash was attached.
It would be MoJo’s undoing.
The next morning Neva took MoJo for his final stroll before the day’s long journey, and on the return he spied the carrier on the ground. In a flash of insight, he yanked free of his collar and bolted into the nearby woods.
Aided by her parents, Neva spent the remainder of the day and most of the evening frantically searching, calling, listening and waiting to no avail. There was no sign of the fugitive in the woods or elsewhere. Neva pleaded for an additional night, but when that also came up futile, Mason and Elise explained to their distraught daughter that they could delay no longer. They gave their contact information to the motel owners who promised to keep a lookout for the feline and to feed him if he turned up.
“Troublesome little bastard,” Mason grumbled as they drove away.
Neva had always been mature beyond her actual age, in bygone eras termed precocious, but not this time. She hated her parents the rest of the way to Ohio and for a good while following that. She hated herself more for allowing the escape.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by Edna C. Horning